Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Tuesday Time Travel: 1954, When Great-Uncle Sam Schwartz Died

My maternal grandfather Teddy Schwartz had an older brother, Sam Schwartz, who was the immigrant trailblazer. Sam told officials (draft boards and others) that he was born July 4, 1883 and I know he died on June 9, 1954, less than a month before he would have turned 71. Cousin Harriet tells me that Sam died of a heart attack, mowing his lawn on a hot summer day.

Sam spent many years operating his own grocery store in Queens, New York. Coincidentally (or not), my grandpa Teddy operated his own grocery store in the Bronx, NY. Sam's first wife, Anna Gelbman, died in 1940 and Sam remarried Margaret ___ sometime in the late 1940s or early 1950s.

What was happening in 1954, the year that Great-uncle Sam died?

  • The US social and political landscape was changing. Pres. Eisenhower had recently ended the Korean War; Brown vs. the Board of Ed Topeka outlawed racial segregation in schools, a major shift in Southern states that had minimal effect where Sam lived in NYC. Senator Joe McCarthy was making headlines with Commie lists--and was finally discredited. The phrase "under God" was added to the pledge of allegiance. The first US nuclear sub, the Nautilus, was launched, adding to the atomic weaponry race during the Cold War. Rock 'n roll was coming to life. Sam would have been aware of most these shifts (not the rock 'n roll, for sure) and probably had a strong opinion on them (though I don't know what his opinions would have been).
  • The Hungarian revolution was brewing. Sam, a native of Ungvar, certainly would have been unhappy about the Soviet domination of Hungary. Russia's Stalin died in 1953 and Hungary became embroiled in a struggle between the repressive Soviets and a slightly more progressive group of officials who wanted reforms. Sadly, Sam died before the Warsaw Pact tied Hungary even more tightly into the Soviet bloc and before the brief Hungarian Revolution of 1956, which failed in its attempt to tear Hungary away from the Soviet orbit.
  • New York City: Ellis Island closes, Giants win World Series. Sam and his siblings knew all about Ellis Island. In fact, my grandpa Teddy worked as a runner for insurance firms etc., recruiting new arrivals at Ellis Island, because Teddy had a facility for languages. Perhaps immigrants like Sam and Teddy felt nostalgia for the first US building they set foot in, or perhaps they were relieved that the overcrowded place was no more. As a New Yorker, Sam would have been a bit pleased to know that a home team, the Giants (soon to decamp for California), stomped all over the Cleveland Indians in a four-game rout. Not of much consequence, I know, but who could resist mentioning this?
I'm still trying to find out more about Sam's second wife, Margaret, who I believe died in the 1970s and who had a son, William, from her first marriage.

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